I persistently characterize my political philosophy as that of a classical liberal. This sows some confusion. Those who share my deep skepticism about the redistributionist tendency of a modern welfare state are usually characterized as conservatives. So why muddy the water? A short political history is in order.
For those who follow the PBS series “Downton Abbey,” one cannot help but note the Crowley family’s wealth flows from their ownership of land. The British landed gentry lived off agricultural rents. They were the bastions of the established order of King and Country, Blood and Soil, Church and State and were conservatives because they desired to maintain the existing social order.
The Industrial Revolution raised the status and wealth of the mercantile and new manufacturing class. This class was not attached to the rigid structures of the British aristocracy. They themselves were both the byproduct and cause of a changing social order. They were political liberals.
A persistent debate issue of early 19th-century Britain was the tariffs on grain. The conservatives favored high tariffs, while the liberals opposed high tariffs. Tariffs on imported foodstuffs kept domestic food prices high and supported the rental incomes of British landlords. The British mercantile and industrial class, however, found their wealth augmented by a regime of free trade.
One can examine this political history exclusively through a narrow economic lens, but economic interests have a way of morphing into sincere political philosophies. To the British land-owning conservatives, protective agricultural tariffs were part of a larger philosophy of government. In their view part of the function of the state was to protect the wealth arrangements of the existing order. On the other hand, the liberals developed a philosophy that argued the state had no legitimate business in redistributing wealth to any favored class.